All the Pretty Lights
I could feel the light shining against my closed eyes. The sense that something was starring me right in the face just beyond my reach urged me to wake up and acknowledge my surroundings. Heavy with exhaustion I slowly opened them. Letting the light pour in I peered out the double-paned window and directly into what looked like a set of headlights floating above me in the fog and falling snow. As my vision sharpened looking down the wing of the 747 I snapped back to reality and away from any notion that I had woken up in an episode of Star Trek. It was just the de-icing machine preparing us for departure.
I was beginning my next adventure, traveling from Steamboat, Colorado to Portland, Oregon. The previous week I had spent an ample amount of time listening to Texas Country Music, drinking Shiner, and snowboarding with new and old friends. It was my inaugural trip of the next six weeks of snowboarding and photographing in the mountains, and it had clearly set the standard for good times.
After making my way to Portland and riding Mt. Hood for a couple of days and witnessing some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen from the top of a mountain, I headed home to spend a week in Austin, Texas recuperating and doing my oh-so dreaded laundry. My next stop was Aspen, Colorado for the 2012 Winter X Games – the competition of all competitions for snow sports.
So yet again I found myself starring out another double-paned window into a familiar blue Colorado sky. The thunder storms from the night before still lingered in the air as we free fell our way into Aspen. But through the darkness that surrounded us 31,000 feet above the ground my eyes settled on an intense white glow nestled against the Rockies, even though my stomach didn’t. It was a monster, the 22’ Super Pipe that throws skiers and snowboarders into what seems like oblivion, that lit up the night’s sky. At that moment I couldn’t tell if it was the turbulence or the idea that I would be standing on the walls of the Super Pipe that weekend photographing what would become great moments in history that gave me the butterflies.
So with no expectations or set agendas I walked blindly into Buttermilk Park with my camera. From that point on I was consumed by the entire production: the 330,00 watts of power that lit the slopestyle course for the first time, giant screens everywhere I turned showcasing each athlete and their runs, the inordinate supply of energy drinks within hands reach, and of course the 108,000 people in attendance over the course of the entire event. My attention obviously didn’t waver for four days straight.
However, within all of the extravagance, technology and athleticism that defined the weekend there was something even bigger and more important to be recognized – the celebration of the life of Sarah Burke, a freestyle skier who died just a week before the X Games while training in Park City, Utah.
It wasn’t just the embroidered “Believe in Sarah” arm bands worn on jackets or stickers fashioned to helmets and boards that stood out and spoke of the camaraderie amongst the athletes, rather it was her presence that lingered in the hearts of those she touched. For many athletes each run, triple cork and backflip attempted at Buttermilk Park was for her, and for many they will always be for her.
It was a whirlwind of a trip. I photographed some of the best athletes in their respective sports, felt the snow fall from the bottom of skis and boards as I stood on the walls of the Super Pipe, and witnessed X Games history. Needless to say my first three weeks in the mountains were amazing.
So as I relived all of these moments while strategically shoving my backpack under the seat in front of me and wishing I had a large cup of coffee already in hand on my early morning flight, I yet again looked out my now friendly double-paned window to watch the sun rise and do a dance across the wing. The butterflies had returned. It wasn’t the turbulence or my nerves this time, rather something different although vaguely familiar. Joy…excitement for the unknown…the restlessness inside of me that couldn’t wait to see more.
Next stop – Texas for the night, and New Mexico in the morning…